Venezuela President Maduro hikes wages, distributes social housing | Americas| North and South American news impacting on Europe | DW | 01.05.2017
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Venezuela President Maduro hikes wages, distributes social housing

The third minimum wage increase this year was announced on the eve of International Workers' Day and amid continuing opposition protests and calls for elections. Local elections may be held later this year.

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Venezuela in crisis

With the latest wage increase and mandatory food subsidies, the minimum take home pay for millions of Venezuelans now stands at 200,000 bolivars a month or less than $50 (46 euros) at the widely used black market rate.

Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro announced a 60 percent increase in the country's minimum wage during his weekly television program "Sundays with Maduro." He also repeated his call for dialogue with the opposition and indicated state elections might go ahead later this year.

Maduro also appeared to welcome an offer by Pope Francis for Vatican mediation which opposition leaders had rebuffed. "I respect what Pope Francis is saying," Maduro said.

"We're here to take care of the workers, those who are most humble, and not the privileges of the oligarchs," said Maduro on the day before May Day.

It is the third minimum wage increase in Venezuela this year, and the 15th such increase since Maduro became president in 2013 following his predecessor Hugo Chavez's death.

Maduro also announced an "economic war" bonus for retirees in order to make up for what he considered attempts by opponents to ruin the economy.

Social housing 

Officials in several states handed over the keys to hundreds of new apartments on Sunday. Some of them had been built with Chinese funding. It brings the total number of public housing units built under the program started by the late President Chavez to 1.6 million. 

Inflation in Venezuela jumped 255 percent in 2016 and is expected to increase 720 percent in 2017, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and by over 2,000 percent in 2018. It is the highest rate of inflation in the world. 

The announcements were made in the wake of weeks of violence involving pro-and anti-government protesters. At least 29 protesters have died so far, with more protests from both sides expected on Monday's May Day labor holiday.

State elections 

Maduro signaled state elections could take place later this year. "I am anxious for an electoral process to be called," Maduro said on Sunday, adding that the election board (CNE) first needed to legalize political parties. "Then the CNE will fix the pending governor elections, for this year…Venezuela's problem is not that there won't be elections this year. Venezuela's problem is that an empire in extremists' hands wants to take our oil and carry out a coup."

The elections for the governors of Venezuela's 23 states were originally expected to take place in 2016. Maduro's United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) controls 20 states but opinion polls indicate the opposition would win most of them if elections were held. In December 2015 the opposition gained control of the National Assembly in an election landslide.

Opponents to Maduro have called for early general elections, as well as legislative and mayoral elections, which Maduro has rejected. The next presidential election is expected to take place in 2018. 

Julio Borges, president of the opposition controlled National Assembly, said Sunday he would send a document to Pope Francis reaffirming the opposition's demands centered on general elections.

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kbd/jm (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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